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by Mariam Ileyemi
On the 19th of February, Kwara State Government was forced to order the temporary closure of ten schools in the state following the religious controversy – and the latter violence – that attended the approval of hijab-wearing by female students in public secondary schools in the state.
The ten schools were previously owned by Christian missionaries before they were taken over by the military government in the 1970s. The take-over affected all private secondary schools, which the missionary schools were part of. However, the affected schools still have their names reflecting their missionary foundation and this could have been a source of continued discontent between the Christian and Muslim communities in the state.
Before the closure of the affected schools, parents of Muslim students embarked on a protest in Ilorin over the school administrators’ refusal to allow Muslim students wearing hijab into the school premises. Both the Muslim parents and school administrators failed to have a rethink on the issue and failed to find a middle ground to accommodate tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The fallout will not only restrain a peaceful co-existence but will affect the academic performance of the students preparing for the upcoming National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations and can eventually snowball into a serious religious crisis in the state.
A solution would be to change the names of these schools to reflect neutrality. The continued use of the missionary-themed names would continue to be a bone of contention because it gives the schools a religious identity.
The schools retaining a religious identity when it is funded and maintained by the tax payers’ money is unwise. In a pluralistic country like Nigeria where religious volatility is a recurring problem, the government should be thoughtful enough not to embroil institutions with religious tussle.
Nigeria has battled several cases of religious violence in the past, like the conflicts that engulfed the city of Kaduna in February 2000 between Christians and Muslims over implementing Sharia law. Thousands of lives and properties worth millions were destroyed. Another is the unfortunate clash between Muslims and Christians at Rukuba road and Farin Gada in Jos during Ramadan prayers, on August 29, 2011. No less than 20 persons were killed, 50 injured, over 50 motor vehicles and 100 motorcycles were torched. The list is endless.
However, religious misunderstanding and intolerance have done more harm than good to the peace and unity Nigeria clamours for knowing full well that one can hardly speak of progress in Nigeria when the religious systems cannot maintain at least a minimum level of tolerance. The efforts at achieving sustainable religious peace across the nation have been aborted times without a number owing to the recurrent cases of religious conflicts.
Nigeria has more critical issues to tackle, such as poverty, insecurity, corruption, drug abuse, banditry and insurgency, religious violence should not add to the problems.
Issues that could incite violence can be amicably resolved if both sides embrace religious understanding and mutual tolerance. Nigeria government and all relevant stakeholders should take urgent steps in curbing the excessiveness, volatility of religious violence, as it is a threat to both human and national security.
Mariam Ileyemi is a writing fellow at African Liberty.
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